Andreas Böhn

Andreas Böhn obtained his PhD in philology and philosophy at University of Mannheim in 1991.

He is currently Professor of literary and media studies at the University of Karlsruhe (KIT). Böhn is author or co-author of four monographs and has edited or co-edited six academic books and written about 70 articles. He has published widely on intertextuality and intermediality, mimesis, fictionality and metafiction in literature, film and other arts and media; current research interest include media nostalgia as well as the relation of technology and culture.

Research project: The Concept ‘Industry 4.0’ Seen from a Cultural and Media Studies Perspective

The term ‘Industry 4.0’ was coined at the Hanover Fair in 2011 to promote a new understanding of the development of technology since the Industrial Revolution, but also to shift the focus of the ongoing debate on modernization, globalization and technological change on industry, i.e. production, work and machinery instead of mere virtual settings. Leaving beside the question if the concept in itself is a ‘hit or hype’ (Draht & Horch 2014) we have to notice an increasing interest in it, not only in Germany and other European countries, but also e.g. in China. It seems to be particularly attractive to countries with a strong industrial background, trying to make the next step with the use of digital technologies. Therefore I would like to carry out the proposed project together with colleagues at the German Studies Center of Tongji University, Shanghai, and hopefully also with Polish colleagues from Literary Studies, Media Studies, Cultural Studies or Social Sciences. A transnational perspective would definitely be an asset for this project, because attitudes to industry, technological innovation and its interrelations differ from one country to another, and a comparison between Germany and Poland would surely be elucidating, given the differences in historical, social and economic background.

The idea of a forth industrial revolution, based not on the steam engine (1, late 18th cent.), continuous production lines with conveyor belts (2, late 19th cent.), or digital programming of automation systems (3, after WWII), but on cyberphysical production systems, in English also called Smart Industry or Industrial Internet, is not so new as the neologism insinuates. It has been anticipated in works of fiction like many other actual technological innovations before. And whereas the promoters of Industry 4.0 are looking out for positive narrations displaying the possibilities and perspectives for a better life in the future (Schwab 2017), fictional works in literature, film and TV often present rather dystopias of a world where the human workforce is no more needed (Frey & Osborne 2013), the use of ubiquitous computing in everyday life has turned into a nightmare of surveillance and control (Böhn 2013), and robots in factories and as artificial companions haver blurred the boundaries between humans and machines and threaten the human supremacy. But also the increasing nostalgia for former stages of technology (Böhn 2009), for analogue media (Böhn 2007; Schrey 2014), rusty industrial plants from the coal-and-steel-age (cf. Pasieka & Filipkowski 2015) or simply technology that does not overall appear as a black box, but still allows a do-it-yourself approach can be regarded as a cultural reaction to and reflection of the utopias of technological innovation Industry 4.0 is part of.

As up to now in literary and media studies and the humanities in general research focusing on this rather new phenomenon has been scarce, the project will try to explore this field from as many angles as possible and in an interdisciplinary manner. But to make the range of analysable objects a bit more concrete and palpable I will first concentrate on examples from the medium of film, which of course will be complimented by literary works, TV series, but also other fields of cultural production like advertising, etc. The focus will be on examples from the present, but the historical dimension and long lasting cultural traditions in the depiction of technological change, the impact of generic forms and the specific national background will not be neglected.

Dates of stay: 01 March 2018 - 31 July 2018